Legal Thoughts

What to Do if You’ve Suffered an Injury at Work: Advice for Injured Workers

By Josh Harper, Attorney

High angle view of mid adult worker suffering from leg pain by storage tank steps in park

For my first blog post, I was planning to write an article about what an injured worker should do if they have suffered an injury during a workplace accident.

It turns out that the North Carolina Industrial Commission (the state agency that is responsible for handling workers’ compensation claims) and the North Carolina Bar Association (one of the major professional groups for attorneys) have already written articles about that exact topic.

So instead of writing an article on that topic, I thought I’d post links to those articles (provided at the end of this post). Before I do, here are three additional pieces of advice for injured workers:

  1. Report the injury to your employer. The first link gives more details about how to do this, but I wanted to mention it here also because it’s so important. Without reporting the injury, it may be difficult for you to get the necessary medical care. Check out the first link at the end of this post for instructions on how to report your injury.
  2. Take pictures. Your case may involve lots of doctors, but it will ultimately be decided by a Deputy Commissioner or the Full Commission. The Commissioners are administrative judges, meaning that they are trained as lawyers, not doctors. My father (Richard B. Harper, the managing partner here at The Harper Law Firm, PLLC) spent two years as Deputy Commissioner. Dad recently reminded me of the old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

That’s definitely true in the legal world. If you can get pictures of the accident, or of yourself before or after injury, those pictures can have a powerful impact by helping a judge understand the seriousness of your injury. In addition, early pictures of bruising and other injuries can even help the doctors diagnose less obvious injuries.

  1. As soon as possible, tell your doctor about all the body parts that you hurt. It’s human nature to focus on the body part that hurts the most. When I was in the Army, experienced Soldiers would talk about the importance of shooting the 50 meter target versus worrying about a 300 meter target. The point was that you need to worry about the most important issue before worrying about other things.

That’s usually good advice, but not in a workers’ compensation case. Often an employee suffers an injury to their back, but it also causes knee pain or foot pain. If the employee only talks about the back injury, then that makes it difficult when the employee later needs treatment for the knee or foot.

Obviously, focus on the body part that is most seriously injured, but try to make sure that your doctor’s notes include every body part that was hurt in your accident.

  1. If you can’t go back to your old job, look for other jobs. Let’s say you got seriously hurt and can’t return to your old job. Even if your doctor has issued permanent restrictions, and even if you don’t think there is anywhere you should work, try to find other jobs.

There are a lot of different reasons to look for some job that you can perform. If you can find something to do, then it will probably help your mood to get out of the house. Being around your co-workers is probably going to make you feel better. Who knows – you might find a new career that you love.

Even if you can’t find a job, if you look for jobs and keep a written record showing the jobs you’ve applied for, then it is good evidence that you want to work and would be working if you could. Later on, if the insurance company tries to cut off your benefits, it will impress a judge if you have records showing that you have been looking for work.

As a side note, when you are applying for jobs, if a potential employer asks about your physical limitations, you are legally required to tell them about any restrictions that your doctor has placed on you (for example, “no lifting over 25 pounds”). See N.C.G.S. 97-12.1.

Here’s the information you want to include in your job search log, with a couple of examples:

Job Title Company Date Applied Company Representative I Spoke To Did I Get an Interview or Job Offer Reason Employer Gave for Not Offering the Job
Head Coach Carolina Panthers April 16, 2019 GM Bob Jones Interview, but no job offer Said another candidate was more qualified
Head Chef Restaurante Delicioso April 17, 2019 Restaurant owner Jane Smith No interview Told I needed cooking experience


Without further ado, here are some really useful links for injured workers:

  • “What must an employee do when an injury occurs? Report the injury to the employer, orally and in writing, immediatelyand in any event within 30 days.” North Carolina Industrial Commission, Frequently Asked Questions (accessed April 16, 2019), available at: